Most people are somewhat familiar with the story of Joseph. Here's a young man about 17 years of age whose brothers will ultimately turn on him. They will assault him. They will attack him. Then they will throw him into a pit and eventually sell him into Egypt where this teenage boy will become a prisoner and a slave. What caused his brothers to do such a despicable act?
The CAUSE of Betrayal
Let’s begin by talking about the causes of betrayal, which in its very essence, will all bottle down to jealousy. Jealousy is one of those things that unfortunately today we view as “no big deal.” It has become one of those respected sins. In our minds, it's not a big sin so who cares?
However, jealousy always leads to something worse. It never stays at simple jealousy. Once it runs its course, jealousy will ultimately turn into envy. There's a big difference between jealousy and envy. When you're jealous, that means somebody has something that you wish was yours. When you're envious, you want to deprive that person of having that item since you can't have it either.
For example, if you purchased a brand new fully loaded SUV, an $80,000 vehicle, and I wished it were mine that would be jealousy. But if while you were away I slashed the tires and poured sugar in the gas tank so you couldn't drive it either, that would be envy. Jealousy, if left unchecked, always leads to envy. But it doesn’t stop there either. Envy will always lead to hatred and hatred will always lead to malice. But it all begins with jealousy and we’ll see that in the life of Joseph's brothers.
In Joseph’s case there were three causes of the betrayal that took place at the hands of his brothers. Cause number one is seen in Genesis 37:2:
“Joseph was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.”
A lot of people look at this verse and see it as Joseph bringing this betrayal on himself. After all, look at him. He was a tattle tale, right? No one likes a tattle tale. But is that really the case? I don't think so. I see the first cause for Joseph's betrayal as his FAITH.
Yes, Joseph brought a bad report back to his father about his other brothers but keep in mind the character of his brothers. What kind of men were they? They were rotten. They were evil. It was his brothers in the city of Shechem that, when their sister was assaulted, tricked all the men into coming into a state of weakness though being circumcised and then murdered all of them taking their wives, children and possessions for their own. These were evil men.
Remember, Reuben, the oldest? He had an affair with one of Jacob's concubines who was the mother to two of his step brothers. These were wicked men. So when it says that Joseph brought back a bad report, I don't think Joseph came home and said, “Dad, Reuben stole my lunch box.” It is more likely that his brothers were doing something very wicked, very evil, something that would damage the family name and even bring danger upon themselves.
Now, is that tattling? I don't think so. If you had a child and that child was doing something very evil, something dangerous, and your other child knew about it, wouldn't you want them to tell you? I don't think it was a simple case of tattling. This young man, Joseph, had a character of obedience. He had a desire for righteousness. Later in his life he would end up in Egypt where he would be seduced by a beautiful and powerful woman. Though he would have every reason to rationalize away why it would be okay to have that moment of pleasure, he will resist giving into that temptation. Joseph was a man of character and righteousness. It was his faith that his brothers despised. It was his righteousness that caused jealousy within their life.
So we see that one cause of his betrayal was his faith. In Genesis 37:3-4, we see the second cause.
“Now, Israel (that's Jacob, their father), loved Joseph more than all of his sons because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a very colored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all their brothers and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.”
Do you see how their jealousy has not only gone to envy but to hatred? And one of the chief reasons for this was his FAVORISTISM. That's cause number two for his betrayal.
We see from the text that his dad made a grave mistake. He not only loved Joseph more than he loved his other sons, he showed it. He displayed it. This was a learned trait. Isaac did the same thing. Jacob had a twin brother named Esau and Isaac loved Esau more than he loved Jacob and now Jacob does the same thing. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons. Why was this so? First, it was because Joseph was the son of his old age. Jacob was 91 years old when Rachel gave birth to Joseph. And not only that, but when his beloved Rachel was giving birth to his last son, Benjamin, she died in childbirth and for those reasons Jacob loved Joseph more than the others and he showed it.
One of the ways he showed this favoritism was to have made for Joseph a multicolored coat. In the culture of that day one of the ways you showed your wealth was through extravagant dress. This very colored tunic was extravagant. It would have been very expensive to make. It was tailor made and the very wording of the text showed that that it was a tunic that went right down to his wrists and all the way down to his ankles. In other words, it wasn't a working tunic. Joseph didn't have to do much work. He was daddy's favorite. And he now has this coat of many colors that reminded his brothers how much their dad loved Joseph more than he loved them.
This doesn’t mean that Joseph is without fault in his relationship with his brothers. As we will soon see, when Joseph goes to find his brothers when they end up taking him and throwing him into the pit, he will be wearing his coat of many colors. I don't think he was wearing it in order to rub it into his brothers' face. I don't think he was even thinking through the fact that his wearing that coat in front of his brothers would just infuriate them more. Without realizing it, wearing that coat in front of them was like pouring salt in the wound. Sometimes when we find ourselves in the pit of betrayal, though what was done to us was evil and wrong, chances are really good that if we are honest with ourselves we will be able see things we did to make matters even worse. And there's no doubt Joseph did this when he wore that very coat in front of his brothers.
So reason number one for his betrayal was his faith. Reason number two was his favoritism. There's a third reason that his brothers end up betraying him and that was because of his FUTURE. We see this in Genesis 37:5:
“Then Joseph had a dream and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.”
Joseph had two dreams that he shared with his family. In dream number one he's out in the field with his brothers and they're binding sheaves and Joseph's sheaf stands up straight and his brothers' sheaves all bow down to Joseph's sheaf. When Joseph tells his brothers about this dream it infuriates them. “What are you saying, Joseph, that we're one day going to bow down to you?” Then he has another dream where the sun, the moon and 11 stars all bow down to him and again his brothers are infuriated. Their jealousy turns to anger. “How could you say that one day we're going to bow down to you?”
Obviously, we know the rest of the story. We know that's exactly what will happen. We know that at the end of the story his brothers will bow down to him. But his brothers didn't know it at the time. And when Joseph told them the dream it made them even angrier. Some would say that what Joseph was doing was bragging. Why did he tell them about the dream?
I don't think he was bragging. Who put the dream into Joseph's mind? Who put the dream into his heart? Who caused him to have the dream to begin with? It was God, wasn't it? God was showing Joseph his future. God was showing Joseph the great ways that He was going to use him. Folks, listen, when God puts a passion in your life, you can't keep it silent. And those who dream big dreams for God often become the target of betrayal. And that's what happened to Joseph. His faith, his favoritism, and his future all take the jealousy that was birthed in the heart of his brothers and turn it to envy which then turned into hatred and ultimately took on the form of malice in which they do the unthinkable.
The CRIME of Betrayal
“His brothers went to pasture their father's flock in Shechem and Israel (that's Jacob) said to Joseph, are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come and I'll send you to them and he said to his father, I will go.” (Genesis 37:12-13)
Notice first of all the PLACE of the crime involved. The Bible says that his brothers have the father's flock over in the region of Shechem. Does that name ring a bell to you? Shechem was the location where their sister, Dinah, was assaulted and all of the brothers tricked the men in the city to a moment of weakness and slaughtered all of them taking their wives, their children and their possessions as their own.
Let me ask you something. If you lived at that time in the region around Shechem, what would be your opinion of Jacob's family? You probably wouldn't think very highly of them. So when Jacob hears that his sons have the sheep over in Shechem, over 60 miles away from the homestead, he becomes concerned. As a result he sends Joseph to go check on them. This tells me that, though he might have loved Joseph more than the others, Jacob still did care for his other sons. He sends Joseph to find them. When Joseph gets there, they've already moved north another 15 miles to Dothan so they're now 75 miles away from their homestead and here's what happens. Genesis 37:18-19 then says:
“When his brothers saw Joseph from a distance before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death.”
There's a PLOT that's involved in this crime. As his brothers see him coming, while he's still a distance off, they begin to plot against him. They begin to conspire to do something evil, even to kill him. Here we see a very important principle. Folks, listen, betrayal always involves recruitment to a conspiracy. That's what happens. They all get together and they conspire against him. Betrayal never happens out in the open. Betrayal doesn't happen by just one person. There's always recruitment to the conspiracy.
What does that teach us? It teaches us that any time someone comes up to you and begins to talk to you negatively about another person behind their back, all kinds of red flags and warning bells ought to go off in your mind and in your spirit. Betrayal is done behind the back. Betrayal always involves recruitment to conspiracy.
Nowhere in the New Testament will you find one example where God tells us that this is the way to deal with people. Not one. The Bible says if you have something against someone you're to go to that person. The Bible says if you know a brother who's in sin, you're to go to that brother. Nowhere in scripture do we ever find any foundation for getting together in secret and talking about someone else behind their back. Always avoid the secret conspirator.
“So it came about when Joseph reached his brothers that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the very colored tunic that was on him, and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now, the pit was empty without any water in it.” (Genesis 37:23)
We've seen the place and we've seen the plot. Now notice the PIT. Notice what the brothers do. They conspire while he's away to kill him. Reuben, the oldest, steps in and says, “No, let's not kill him. We don't want his blood on our hands.” So they decide that when he gets to them, they would lure him over towards the pit and there they would do the unthinkable.
So as Joseph made his way to them, obeying his father's command to check on them, his brothers assault him. They attack him and this attack would have been very violent. Remember, they originally wanted to kill him – that’s violent. The Bible says they strip off his coat of many colors. They strip it off because this is the symbol of their hatred. This is the symbol of their jealousy. This reminds them of their father's favoritism. And Reuben convinces them instead of killing him to take him and throw him in a pit.
A pit in those days would have held water during the rainy season. It would have had a very, very narrow opening and would have been shaped like a vase with a larger bottom. There was no way to crawl out. They take Joseph and they throw him into the pit. When Reuben, the oldest, stood up to his defense and said, “No, let's not kill him, let's throw him in the pit,” he had a plan. If you read the whole text, Reuben's plan was to come back and to rescue Joseph later. There was at least one of these ten older brothers who still had some conscience about them. He knew what they were doing was wrong. He knew it was evil. And he had a plan to stop it.
For some reason, however, Reuben will leave and while he's gone his brothers will take Joseph, pull him out of the pit and they will sell him into slavery into Egypt. When Reuben comes back, he'll find out what they've done. After that, Reuben will then go along with the plot. He'll go along with the cover-up. He'll join them in faking the whole thing to their father and convincing Jacob that Joseph was dead. There's something else about betrayal you need to understand. Even though there might be a few who see what's happening is wrong, at the end of the day they will most likely succumb to the pressure and they will cave in and be part of the plot.
We learn something more as we carefully notice just the beginning of Genesis 37:25, “Then they sat down to eat a meal.” What did these brothers do? After they took Joseph and threw him in the pit, while he's at the bottom of the pit all alone screaming out in fear and pain, they sit down next to the pit and they have lunch. They have a feast. They laugh and they eat. This is a striking principle. Those who are involved in the act of betrayal often feel a sense of satisfaction afterwards as they rationalize in their mind a justification to their hurtful actions. This is seen as Joseph's brothers sit down to a meal while their brother screams in the pit.
The CONSEQUENCE of Betrayal
We have seen the cause of betrayal. We have seen the crime of betrayal. The final point is the consequences. What happens next? Look at Genesis 37:28:
“Then some Midianite traders passed by so they pulled Joseph up. They lifted him out of the pit and they sold him to Ishmaelites for 20 shekels of silver. Thus, they brought Joseph into Egypt.”
As they're having lunch together, with Joseph screaming in the pit, a group of Midianites and Ishmaelites come by who are on their way to Egypt. They're traders. What do they do for a living? They buy things from you and take it somewhere else and try to make money off of it.
So his brothers come up with a brilliant idea. They say, “Reuben's right. Let's not kill our brother. We don't want his blood on our hands. Instead, let's make some money. Let's sell him to the Midianites, to the Ishmaelites. Let them take him into Egypt where we'll never see him again. We'll never have to deal with him again. We'll never have to see his face. We'll never have to see his coat. We'll never have to hear about his dreams. We'll be rid of the goody two shoes forever.”
And that's exactly what they do. They sell Joseph. It says they sell him for 20 pieces of silver. That was the price in that day of a handicapped slave. That's how much they thought of Joseph. That was the price you would get for a slave that had no value. And that's what they sell him for - hardly what you would call a profit. There are ten of these brothers. That means they each get two pieces of silver. Big deal. It’s obvious that the real issue to them wasn't the money, it was getting rid of Joseph.
“So his brothers took Joseph's tunic. They slaughtered a male goat and they dipped the tunic in the blood. And they sent the very colored tunic to their father. And said, we found this. Please examine it to see whether it's your son's tunic or not.” (Genesis 37:31-32)
They have to cover up their betrayal. They have to cover up their wrongdoing. They have to convince their father something happened to Joseph. So they take that coat of many colors that they hated so much and soak it in the blood. Remember, they are 75 miles away from home with the sheep so they send the blood stained coat back to their father with a note saying we found this coat. Please tell us, is it your son's? And Jacob becomes convinced his precious favored son is dead.
Betrayal always involves falsehood. It always involves some sort of lie. And betrayal always hurts more individuals than the person who gets betrayed. Joseph wasn't the only person who got hurt in this story. Jacob, who at this time is well over 100 years old, is now living in daily grief and daily sorrow convinced that his son is dead.
The pit of betrayal is a horrible place. Chances are really good that many of you know what it's like to be in the pit. Chances are very good that many of you reading this have found yourself at some point in your life in the pit of betrayal. Maybe you were betrayed by a mate, a friend, a parent, a sibling, a child, a co-worker, or a ministry partner. Chances are good that some of you are in the pit right now. Every day when you wake up you're living in the pit. For some of you, the pit is just ahead of you in your journey. Because of this let me share four truths that we learn about the pit of betrayal.
The PAIN in Betrayal
Truth number one involves the PAIN in betrayal and it says that the pain that comes from betrayal often gets worse before it gets better. That's what will happen to Joseph. Many people say, “Joseph is a great story that shows how he went from the pit to the palace.” Yes, ultimately, he'll get to the palace. Yes, ultimately he'll be the Prime Minister of Egypt. Yes, ultimately he'll save Egypt from starvation. But let me remind you that for Joseph the path from the pit to the palace was not a direct route.
He didn't go from the pit directly to the palace. He first went to the prison. He only spent a few hours in the pit but he would spend years in the prison, waking up every morning in an Egyptian dungeon because he would be falsely accused. For years he would never see the light of day. In reality, the pain from the betrayal got worse for Joseph before it ever got better.
Many people find themselves in the pit of betrayal and they cry out to God to rectify their problem and things get worse and you know what they do? They turn their back on God. They think God's abandoned them and I need you to know something. The pain that comes from the pit of betrayal often gets worse before it gets better. That does not mean that God has forsaken you. That does not mean that God has abandoned you. And the worst thing you can do when you're in the pit of betrayal is to turn your back on God.
I remember a time in my life when I was in the pit of betrayal. I remember how tempting that was. I remember every day while in that pit praying the same prayer. Every day, I would pray, “God, when this is over, no matter what it looks like and no matter where I'm at, my prayer is that I will be more in love with Jesus than I am today; more in love with my wife than I am today; and more in love with the local church than I am today.” By the grace of God, He answered every single one of those prayers.
The PURPOSE in Betrayal
The second truth deals with the PURPOSE in betrayal. God has a purpose that He's fulfilling in your life even in the midst of betrayal's pain. He has a purpose. God will never lead you through pain, heartache and hurt for nothing? He'll never do that. Every time you experience pain and heart ache and trials and affliction and hurt, every time you find yourself in the pit of betrayal, God has a purpose.
Think about it in the life of Joseph. You know where Joseph will end up, right? He'll end up being the Prime Minister of Egypt. He will manage the entire country and he will save the country from starvation. I have a question for you. Where did Joseph learn to manage like that? He didn't learn it at home. He was spoiled rotten at home, the favored son of his dad who never had to do a thing. Where did Joseph learn the lessons, the skills needed to manage the country of Egypt?
Because of his being thrown in the pit, he's sold into slavery where he becomes a slave to a powerful man named Potiphar and Potiphar puts him in charge of his entire home and there Joseph learns the skills of how to manage. After he's falsely accused and he's thrown into prison, you know what happens next? In prison he will find grace in the eyes of the jailer who will put him in charge of the entire prison and for over a decade he will manage the entire prison system. Joseph, while in the pit and the prison, learned the very skills needed to manage all of Egypt when he became the Prime Minister. I can tell you from experience the greatest lessons I have ever learned in my life I learned in the pit of betrayal. God has a purpose for every pain.
The PRESENCE in Betrayal
Truth number three deals with the PRESENCE in betrayal. God's presence is with you through every painful moment of betrayal. I love this. In Genesis 39:2, when Joseph is taken into Egypt, the Bible says, “But the Lord was with Joseph in Egypt.” When he's falsely accused and thrown in the prison, the Bible says in Genesis 39:21, “The Lord was with Joseph in the prison.”
Folks, listen, God's presence is with you through every painful moment of betrayal. When my wife and I went through our time in the pit, that's what kept us going. Every evening, after living through a day of hurt and pain, we'd sit on the back porch with a cup of coffee and we'd answer this question – “How did we see the fingerprints of God in our lives today?” Sometimes those fingerprints were very little but those were the things that we clung to because they showed us that God was with us in our pain.
The PATIENCE in Betrayal
The final truth deals with the PATIENCE in betrayal. The healing of the pain caused by betrayal often takes many years to complete. It doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen in a week. It doesn't happen in a month. It doesn't even happen in a year. But over time, it does happen.
Think about Joseph. The first 17 years of his life he's the favored son of Jacob. For the next many years he's a slave and a prisoner in a strange land. Finally, he becomes the prime minister of Egypt. In this position he gets married and has a son. As we will see, he will name his first son a name that means "God has removed the sting of the memory." It took many years but finally Joseph was able to say that though he remembered every detail of the betrayal, God had removed the sting from the memory.
The pit of betrayal is not a fun place. But if you find yourself in it, there's a simple question you need to ask. Most people in the pit like to cry out to God with the question, “Why me?” That’s the wrong question to ask. When you're in the pit of betrayal, the question you need to ask God is, “What now?”
What are You trying to teach me now, Lord?
What are You trying to show me now?
What are You preparing me for now, God?